Keeping Score – 10 Dumb Performance Measurements

Consultant, author, performance expert Mark Graham Brown was in Auckland last month on his way to coach evaluators who will assess entries in this year’s Business Excellence Awards. The tall, fair-haired American has been consulting with corporations and government organisations for more than 20 years. He’s an expert on the US Baldrige Awards Quality Awards and thinks too many enterprises measure the wrong things when they try to enhance their productivity and performance.

Browns 10 “dumb” performance measurements are:
1. Customer satisfaction surveys: Beware of these. Respondents are usually bored and looking for something to do or they hate you. The people who are satisfied with you don’t fill out survey forms – they just keep coming back. Dissatisfied customers vote with their feet. Think outside the survey box when you are looking to understand customer motivation.

2. Superstitious process measures: The measurement of activities that won’t deliver valid data and predictable outcomes. Anti-drug use advertising campaigns do not, for instance, show any link between the dollars spent and drop in drug use. In fact, what evidence does exist suggests the opposite. It is essential to link the measurement of the process against meaningful outcome.

3. Measurement for the sake of it: Is the number of bums on seats in classroom good measure of effective training? Measuring the number of hours spent at courses means nothing. Find way to measure what people have learned – it’s more difficult but immeasurably more meaningful.

4. Mixed metrics: measure going up might be good but it might equally be good to have the same measure coming down. Employee turnover figures, for instance. You might want some people to leave and others to stay. Measurement of the statistic is only relevant if it is linked to the specific people.

5. Unbalanced measures: Don’t just measure the past because it’s easy. Get balance into your measures – about one third each for past, present and future. Measure the cholesterol level, not the incidence of death from heart disease. You can do something about the former but not the latter. Knowing the level of cholesterol will also help predict what might happen in future.

6. Un-measurable visions or strategies: Words like “world class”, “value added” or “customer focused” are not visionary or strategic. They can’t be effectively measured. Statements like “o here’s where we will be in three years” and””… this is how our company is going to be different” can be measured. Establish measures that tell you that you are making progress in achieving the vision or strategy.

7. Untargeted measures: measure without target is meaningless. Organisations frequently set targets by pulling figures out of the air. Set targets scientifically because you will use valuable resources to meet them. Remember “continuous improvement of everything” is quick way to go broke.

8. Links between “soft” and””hard” measures: Beware annual employee surveys either. Everyone knows what they are expected to say. But there needs to be link between the””soft” data on say employee attitudes and the hard data on employee movement. Quantify the limits of “soft” data. It may not be worth it to push staff satisfaction levels from 87 percent to 90 percent and it might cost fortune to achieve it. Find sensible natural levels and link them.

9. Measures that can’t be influenced: Don’t measure activities that can’t be influenced. Accept them and move on. Answer the question: can I do anything about this? If not, forget it.

10. Measures with the wrong message: Measuring things that people do is sometimes bad for the organisation. Academics, for instance, who spend time writing books and articles to secure tenure can neglect students and their primary role as tutors. Measures can drive the wrong behaviour. Be sure that the activity measured is linked to desirable outcome.

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